It is wholly possible it will not matter who wins the presidential debates, or manages to explain his tax cut scheme, or proposes the more plausible drug prescription plan for the elderly. Albert Gore has eight of the 13 keys to the presidency, and nothing George Bush can do will make the election's outcome different.
I first heard of the keys to the presidency in 1982 while attending the annual meeting of the American Association of Political Consultants in Washington, D.C. We had the usual array of celebrity speakers, including Senator Robert Dole, Senator George Mitchell, Representative Richard Gephardt, and columnist Robert Novak.
One person who addressed us was Professor Allan Lichtman of American University. Few of us had ever heard of him, but he quickly captured and held our attention.
In 1981, while doing academic research in Southern California, he had met Voldia Keilis-Borok, a Soviet geophysicist. Mr. Keilis-Borok's area of specialization was the study of earthquakes, and the means by which they might be forecast. Obviously, California was an excellent place for fieldwork.
Professor Lichtman had long been trying to find a method of predicting the outcome of presidential elections. Mr. Keilis-Borok suggested the technique of pattern recognition which he used to predict earthquakes might well be applicable to presidential elections. Working together, they came up with thirteen factors that would have accurately foretold the outcome of every election since 1860.
When Professor Lichtman addressed the political consultants in 1982, the country was in its worst recession since the Great Depression. Ronald Reagan's prospects for reelection looked bleak, assuming he would even be a candidate.
Professor Lichtman asserted with great confidence that President Reagan would easily gain another term.
Here are the thirteen keys to the presidency, presented in question form. Each must answered ''yes'' or ''no.'' Each question is followed by the answer which would favor the election of the candidate of the party in power. Also listed in parenthesis is the answer according to current conditions and the name of the candidate who benefits from it.
1. Did the incumbent party gain at least 51 percent of the vote cast in the previous election? Yes. (No. George W. Bush.)
2. Was there a serious contest for the nomination of the incumbent party candidate? No. (Yes. Bush.)
3. Was there major third party activity during the election year? No. (No. Albert Gore.)
4. Is the incumbent party candidate the sitting president? Yes. (No. Bush. However, Professor Lichtman pointed out if the candidate had been ''annointed'' by the incumbent president, this key might not be a strong factor.)
5. Was the yearly mean per-capita rate of growth in real Gross National Product during the incumbent administration equal to or greater than the mean rate of the previous eight years, and equal to or greater than 1 percent? Yes. (Yes. Gore.)
6. Is the election year a time of recession or depression? No. (No. Gore.)
7. Did the incumbent president initiate major changes in national policy? Yes. (Yes. Gore.)
8.Was there major social unrest during the incumbent administration? No. (No. Gore.)
9. Was the incumbent administration tainted by major scandal? No. (Yes. Bush.)
10. Did the incumbent party suffer a major setback in foreign or military policy? No. (No. Gore.)
11. Did it achieve a major success in foreign or military policy? Yes. (Yes. Gore.)
12. Is the incumbent party candidate charismatic or a national hero? Yes. (No. Bush.)
13. Is the challenging party candidate charismatic or a national hero? No. (No. Gore.)
The tally is eight keys turned to victory for Vice President Gore, and five for Governor Bush.
It should be noted the keys to victory accurately named the winners in 1988, 1992, and 1996. Moreover, if President Bill Clinton could have been a candidate to succeed himself this year, he would have had eight of the keys turned to him. That is consistent with his 55 percent approval rating in the opinion polls.